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Monday, Sept. 15, 10:41 a.m.
Sports

After successful weekend, UMaine women’s hockey preps for rival UNH

After a rough start to the season, the University of Maine women’s hockey team bounced back last weekend when they took on the Beavers of Bemidji St. in Minnesota.

The Black Bears skated to a tie in game two after snapping their four game losing streak by beating the Beavers the previous night, but will not be able to dwell on their triumph for very long. They play archenemy University New Hampshire in a Hockey East showdown on Saturday, with puck-drop scheduled for noon in Alfond Arena.

UMaine Head Coach Maria Lewis was very pleased with her group’s performance last weekend. The Black Bears secured some much-needed points on the road despite having to overcome travel restrictions that denied them most of their pregame ice time.

“There wasn’t much in terms of preparation for the weekend other than us mentally getting a little tougher [in practice leading up to the games],” Lewis said.

UMaine came back from a three-goal deficit in the third period of game one, something that is even more impressive in light of the youth that comprises most of the Black Bear roster. Lewis said she thought all the rookies took a step forward in their progression against BSU, citing good effort across the board.

“We got two quick goals to start the third period and we just kept battling and battling,” Lewis said. “I’m just really really proud. [It was a] great character weekend for our team.”

The Beavers have a reputation for being a tough defensive squad, and often rely on their ability to pack it in around their net to squeak out wins. Lewis said she was relieved to get out of Bemidji with points because of how tough the Beavers can be to figure out at times.

“They’re a battle-tested team, they play all those great teams in the WCHA,” she said. “They know what it takes to play against those guys, and for us to go in there and find a way to get inside them in and around the crease [was important].

“For us to know that we can get it done against teams that are very hard and very stingy to score on gives us confidence knowing that we are capable of accomplishing a lot more than we have thus far,” Lewis added.

The third year head coach has been adamant in saying that her team must win, but win the right way. Lewis said she thought her team accomplished that last weekend, especially in regards to their defensive positioning in their own zone.

“Offensively we still have to put more pucks on the net, but some of the goals we did get were great goals, and the kind of goals we’re going to score this year,” she said.

The Black Bears were heavily outshot once again, but Lewis believes the box score doesn’t tell the story of the weekend.

“We went in there, we did a lot of things very well,” she said. “We did win the right way and we took a step forward and I’m very very proud of that.”

A main issue for the Black Bears this year has been capitalizing on their shot opportunities. Before this weekend, UMaine had scored eight goals in 14 games. They found the back of the net six times in their two matchups with BSU.

Lewis said she thought the weekend showed her squad that the goals they score aren’t always going to be pretty.

“I think our kids sometimes are looking to make that amazing thread-the-needle pass as opposed to just getting pucks on net and grinding it out,” she said. “I think what they learned from it is that they’re capable of scoring in a variety of ways. A goal is a goal. It’s all the same.”

The two games against BSU definitely provided a confidence boost for the Black Bears,  especially for senior goaltender Brittany Ott, who was coming off a tough weekend against Providence.

Ott saved 71 of the 73 shots she faced against the Beavers, including a streak of 47 consecutive shots-saved at one point in game two.

“You could see the fire in her eyes,” Lewis said. “She was ready to go.”

Lewis added that she believes Ott has “positioned herself right now to reclaim that top spot,” although all three of UMaine’s goaltenders remain in contention to start against UNH this Saturday.

“You have to go with who’s hot, especially in the beginning of the season,” she said. “We’re off to a slow start and we have to go with who’s hot in terms of helping the team be confident and move forward and get some wins under our belt.”

Anyone who has been around hockey is aware of the physical toll the game puts on those who play it. The Black Bears are currently without junior forward Brianne Kilgour and freshman defender Brooklyn Langlois due to injury, and neither looks like they are ready to come back anytime soon.

Kilgour has been sidelined since game one of the Providence series after suffering a muscle contusion in her back. Lewis said she travelled to Bemidji last weekend but did not play. Lewis also said she is still very questionable for this weekend’s matchup with UNH, and has not skated since the injury.

Langlois was suffering from concussion symptoms after she collided hard with the end boards last weekend against BSU. Lewis said she is unsure when the freshman will be able to play again, so the likelihood of her suiting up against UNH doesn’t look very good.

The Wildcats have done well against the top teams in Hockey East this season. Their resume includes wins against Boston University and Boston College and a tie against conference-leading Providence on the road.

“I don’t really think it matters at the end of the day how good a team’s season is thus far. All bets are off when you play UNH,” Lewis said.

“We’ve got a lot of young kids that need to learn about the rivalry and what it’s about. They need to know that there’s a lot of pride on the line. You’re not just playing for our program, you’re playing for the community.”

UMaine won all three meetings between the two teams last year. That’s something Lewis thinks will motivate UNH on Saturday, and she expects a very competitive game between two evenly skilled teams.

When asked if playing the Wildcats added any extra motivation, Lewis agreed.

“I think the players sense that, they know that, and obviously we’re going to talk a little more about that throughout the week, make sure the young kids are on board and understand how important it is,” she said.

“[Playing UNH] is a little more special.”